Memorandum by the Joint Committee for
Strategic Planning and Transportation representing the Four Unitary
Local Authorities in the Former Avon Area (OPT 03)
OVERCROWDING ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT
The Joint Strategic Planning and Transportation
Committee was formed in 1996 by the four unitary local authorities
of Bath and North East Somerset Council, Bristol City Council,
North Somerset Council and South Gloucestershire Council. This
Committee is responsible for strategic planning and transportation,
supported by a Joint Strategic Planning and Transportation Unit
headed by a Director charged with providing independent advice
to the Joint Committee.
Jointly through the recently adopted Structure
Plan the four Councils are seeking to encourage alternatives to
the car, recognising the increasing level of road congestion in
the area. Improving public transport is a major plank of strategic
policy. Strategic priorities are to encourage bus and rail services
within the main urban areas of Bristol, Bath and Weston-super-Mare,
in larger towns and along a series of inter-urban corridors.
The Local Transport Plans of the four Councils
all foresee increased patronage of bus and rail services, especially
at critical peak periods. A crucial issue is whether there is
sufficient capacity in the public transport system to accommodate,
comfortably and safely, current and future numbers of passengers.
Bristol City Council's Local Transport Plan
and subsequent July 2002 Bus Strategy highlight the capacity problem
in peak periods when many inbound buses along major radial routes
are already full when they reach the inner city area and further
passengers are unable to board. This is experienced for example
with buses that run along the A38, A420 and A432 radial routes
connecting Bristol's outer suburbs and residential areas of South
Gloucestershire with the city centre.
The ability of local buses to cater for peak
passenger loads is dependent partly on the frequency of services
and type of vehicles used by the operators; and partly on day-to-day
operational problems such as traffic congestion, roadworks and
driver shortages. If services are delayed or cancelled or small
vehicles used instead of large ones, then the demand for seats
can outstrip supply. In evidence to Bristol City Council's Local
Bus Services Select Committee the major bus operator First has
stressed that the Company "run a large number of vehicles
purely at peak times to take account of greater demand".
The Company also stated that on some popular routes "we have
a number of single decks for which we are unable to secure double
Whilst buses are allowed under Public Service
Vehicle legislation to have certain numbers of "standees",
having to stand is not designed to attract people to using public
transport. Standing can be particularly uncomfortable in Bristol
and Bath with steep hills and stop start driving conditions. Having
purchased their ticket bus passengers want, not unreasonably,
to have a seat. The local perception is that buses with standing
passengers are overcrowded.
The constraints on local train services are
not unlike those on bus services. The capacity of the local rail
system to carry peak passenger loads is similarly influenced by
the frequency of services and the type of rolling stock available
to the train operating companies. Timetabling is affected by the
wider issue of network capacity and pressure from the long distance
train operating companies for limited numbers of train paths.
Rolling stock appears to be in short supply for local services,
made worse by concerns about re-franchising and consequent lack
of company investment. Like bus services, local trains experience
day-to-day operational problems that produce delays and cancellations.
Delayed, cancelled or short formation trains
can lead to uncomfortable conditions for passengers, especially
on commuter routes. For example passengers at local stations between
western Wiltshire and Bath; Weston-super-Mare and Bristol; and
Severn Beach and Bristol are currently experiencing problems of
overcrowding. The shortage of serviceable rolling stock for local
train services has been recently raised as an issue with the Strategic
Rail Authority by the Rail Passengers' Committee (Western England).
Train services in the Bristol area are dominated
by three train operating companies (TOCs). Taking the services
provided by these TOCs as a whole, the Spring 2002 National Passenger
Survey shows that between 12 and 18% of passengers were dissatisfied
with the amount of seats/standing space. In their Passenger Charter
Wessex Trains, the operator of most local services, aim to ensure
that passengers will not have to stand for more than 20 minutes
during their journey but acknowledge that "there will be
occasions where demand for a service exceeds our expectations
or available resources and may cause you to stand for a longer
period of time". Examples of overcrowding are not as obvious
as on commuter routes in the South East, where the Strategic Rail
Authority's Passengers in Excess of Capacity (PIXC) measures apply,
but nevertheless local people do perceive some services as offering
an unacceptably low level of passenger comfort.
Public perception of buses and trains as being
overcrowded, added to criticisms of unreliability and poor timetabling,
undermines the Councils' policy of promoting public transport
in order to create a modal shift from car use. Unlike metropolitan
areas, where private car use for many journeys is often impractical,
people in and around Bristol who have access to a car can easily
be discouraged from using public transport by negative views of
poor journey experiences.
Bus Quality Partnerships (BQP) offer the opportunity
for creating an improved climate for operations and enhancing
perceptions about bus travel. In their role as highway authorities
the Councils can help bus reliability by providing bus priorities
and the better planning of roadworks. Unlike in Scotland, the
Transport Act 2000 does not allow service frequencies to be included
in BQPs and increasing capacity to meet demand will rely on the
bus companies' commercial decisions. One possibility being explored
in Bristol is the development of new "limited stop"
express services to serve outer suburbs and supplement local "stopping"
services catering for demands in the inner suburbs.
The development of "showcase routes"
will hopefully lead to investment in new vehicles and higher frequencies
to cater for peak demands. Double deckers are prominent in Bristol
and First aims to introduce more on "showcase routes".
In Bath two operators have achieved higher capacities by introducing
articulated buses. The provision of most new vehicles however
depends on the wider fleet investment decisions of the major bus
group, First and the extent to which local management aspirations
can be aligned with centralised vehicle purchasing.
Opportunities for reducing overcrowding on the
Bristol area rail system in the short term are limited by problems
in obtaining additional rolling stock for local services. The
Councils hope that this issue will be properly taken into account
in the current negotiations for a 2 year extension of the Wessex
Trains' franchise from 2004 to 2006 prior to the letting of the
new "Greater Western" franchise.
It is also hoped that the SRA's forthcoming
route capacity strategies will recognise the importance of local
rail services when train paths are being reviewed. Whilst longer
trains are a possibility, there is still the need for more frequent
services. Sufficient paths must be identified for local services
to ensure that increases in frequency can be achieved to cater
for future growth in patronage and thereby avoid overcrowding.
Both bus and rail services in the Bristol, Bath
and Weston-super-Mare areas have overcrowding problems at peak
periods. Local Authorities through their Local Transport Plans
want to see a modal shift from cars to public transport. More
capacity is needed in the local public transport system to overcome
existing problems and cater for future growth in bus and rail
patronage. Councils can play an important part but bus and rail
enhancements will continue to rely heavily on the bus and train
operators and the Strategic Rail Authority responding to local
needs and demands.